There’s a small but really killer core group of bands from the mid-80’s that I still tend to look back and think those guys should have been the leaders as far as the death metal genre goes, without taking anything away from the Florida/NY/Swedish titans such as Death, Obituary, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Incantation, etc.. This core group of bands includes proto-masters of what would soon be the determining dividing line between Thrash and Death Metal. Bands such as Master, Deathstrike, Archenemy(L.A.), Incubus(Florida), Devastation(Chicago), Pentagram(Chile), Necrovore(Texas), and a couple others. One of those that I am going to discuss is the still unspoken-of Insanity from California. Insanity, outside of possibly Possessed, were by far the most technical and tightest of all those earliest examples of proto-Death Metal bands from the tape trading circuit of the mid-80’s. Not to forget that Insanity were the only Death Metal band after Possessed to come out of the Bay Area while everyone else at that time was jammin’ to Thrash Metal. Also with that said, Autopsy doesn’t count seeing how they were from Oakland. They never really got the proper recognition nor the acclaim they deserved outside of the brummies from Napalm Death who would go on to cover one of their songs for the “Leaders Not Followers Prt.2” compilation which also included Master and Devastation for good cause. My question is really…..what went wrong? What kept them back from receiving the same possibility of getting onto a bigger label or a well-known label back then? That’s an age old question that constantly pops up when discussing any band that never made the impact that fans feel they should have that never really goes answered. Until now.
My personal knowledge about Insanity goes as far back as the late 90’s/early 00’s when Napalm Death first put out their original “Leaders Not Followers” E.P. on Relapse Records. Flipping through the CD booklet and seeing the old tour flyers from all of the pioneering extreme music bands, the one band logo that caught my eye the most was Insanity’s which I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t know how to properly make it out. I was still learning how to properly decipher old-school band logos and Insanity’s logo was a tough nut to crack. After carefully decoding the sunuvabitch like Rust Cole from True Detective, I scowled the internet for whatever information I could find. Mind you this was way before social media or Youtube so finding any sort of info was still a lesson in trying to teach yourself Greek or physics while only having a high school diploma to your name. I did finally come across the German metal webzine Voices From the Darkside where they put out what is probably the most in-depth interview and history of the band. This particular interview for me pieced the entire puzzle for me. Let’s get the run-down of their discography and a Cliff Noted timeline.
Era 1: Demo Days 1984 – 1989
From roughly 1984-1989, Insanity put out 5 demos ranging from rehearsals to pre-production. Majority of these songs, especially the bulk of demo #3, would end up on their debut album “Death After Death” which would be released in 1994. More about that LP later but let’s take a look at a couple of these demo versions shall we?
For a live rehearsal demo, and I’m hoping it’s the same one that is listed on Metal-Archives.com, this is beyond fucking excellent. For 1985, this is way heavier/faster/gnarlier/more evil than Anything Possessed did after “Seven Churches.” Far more technical than Master‘s rehearsal/unreleased album originally intended for Combat records of the same year. A good 2 years before Autopsy put out their first demo. Slightly more polished than Death‘s 1985 “Infernal Death” demo. Also a good year before Devastation from Chicago came into the picture with their classic “A Creation Of Ripping Death” demo. To give you an idea of what the sound is….think the technical work of Possessed mixed with the vocals of the first Kreator album with the injection of Wehrmacht‘s crossover thrash gauge of speed. For 1985 I honestly don’t think you could possibly get heavier than this demo. The 4 demos after this would more or less have the same sound production and same songs that would all end up on their debut album which brings us to it.
Era 2: “Death After Death” LP and then silence (1994 – 2001)
Ok, I’ll be honest I waaaaaaay more prefer the original artwork version from their demo-era than this.
In 1994 Insanity finally, finally released their long overdue debut album “Death After Death” which was probably not the ideal time to do so. For a band that was part of a core group of tape-trading circuit bands to help flesh-out the skeletal remains of what would soon to be Death Metal, they sure picked the wrong time to unleash it seeing how it came after Death Metal’s peak and right as it was about to go on it’s downward spiral into the mid-90’s. With a relatively unknown German label called M.B.R.(Mangled Beyond Recognition), which is another thing that more than likely hurt the band in more ways than one. Originally signing a deal with them in ’91 and waiting almost 3 years to get the damn thing out to the possible masses, the album tends to tilt a bit more to the thrashier side of the coin that is Insanity’s music where as preserving the fact that these guys were ahead of the pack in their time. Majority of the songs that were recorded from the 1984-1989 period – at least those that showed up on their demos and rehearsal tapes – are all on there. Sound production is polished up a bit but that’s not a bad thing as it doesn’t sacrifice anything about the raw/razor-sharp technical prowess of Insanity’s music. And they took their old-school logo/demo cover artwork and cleaned that up as well….which I completely disagree with. That old-school logo w/severed heads on their demos was waaaay fucking cooler-looking and considering it was in 85 that they did that, that was long before bands like Cannibal Corpse really started pushing the boundaries of bad taste. So when it comes down to it, “Death After Death” isn’t a bad LP by any means. I think it was just a mild representation of Insanity being presented to the world at the wrong time on a label that took too fucking long to release it and this right here is probably the main reason why I have poor Insanity in the Buried By Time & Dust series. Not even a killer music video that was actually made (Yeah I honestly didn’t find out a few days prior to writing this inductee) could help get them to the next platform.
“Fuckin’ sweet!” – Fenriz
As an old-fuck myself, I love the old-school filters and effects done in this. Reminds me a lot of Voivod’s classic “Ravenous Medicine” music video with the green screen in the background. From roughly 94-’01, Insanity was sedated and fell into a coma and silence.
Era 3: 2001 to the elongated build-up to LP #2 “Visions Of The Apocalypse” in 2015
Insanity came back from the abyss in the form of a 3-song E.P. called “Sacrefixion” where it almost goes back to their “Death After Death” live rehearsal in terms of rawness and vocal-delivery power. And much like their first era of the band’s existence, only this time it lasted the next 16(!!!) years, they released 3 compilations of all their material they ever recorded in their entire existence. That’s a hell of a long time to get to the release of their 2nd LP “Visions Of The Apocalypse” which would be released on Unspeakable Axe Records.
Was it worth the wait?
“Visions Of The Apocalypse” is really what their debut album SHOULD have sounded like in 1994. This is a waaaay better representation of the band as far as a full-length album goes and is way closer to the original spirit of their demo days. If you are a fan of old-school Morbid Angel, Death, Possessed, and Slayer…this is right up your alley! And yet…little to no mention of this from any source of publications and social media which blows my mind seeing how easy and blinding light speed everything travels these days with the press of a button.
FINAL ROMAN GRADE: One thumb up and one thumb down (Mixed reaction)
Insanity is one of those grey-area-rated bands that I seriously enjoy and respect. Even them admitting that the obstacles and set-backs they found themselves dealing with, it’s easy to forget that said set backs have hindered the band from gaining the recognition they truly deserve. And the fact they even pointed out that they should have promoted themselves a hell of a lot better speaks volumes as a functioning necessity of your craft in whatever you do in life. Other bands that came from the same time period and background have gone on to be recognized as the forefathers of the Death Metal genre (Master, Death, Repulsion, etc.) and while those other bands even got the same praise and cover treatment and support from the majors such as Napalm Death, Insanity still remain in the dusty corners of a time period that consisted of packages in the mail that may have contained a flyer or a letter giving thanks for support. Who knows, maybe it’s for the best in the long run. Could I sit here and honestly tell you I could have seen Insanity picked up by Nuclear Blast Records in the 90’s after seeing how they treated Paul Speckmann of Master? No. Absolutely not. Repulsion? They got the same little-to-no promotion treatment from Earache Records as well. Death even got a bit snubbed when they jumped from Combat Records to Roadrunner Records in terms of their sound changing. I think the positive silver lining is now there are record labels out there that are not willing to sacrifice the rawness that is Insanity(as with the band themselves) and both are trying to help preserve a small piece of history and of what once was. Maybe this is just like the old story of the tortoise and the hare, where Insanity is clearly the fucking tortoise in releasing new material and staying in the game as long as they have where other bands speed fast ahead and then decide to take a break, get lazy, and miss out on winning the damn race. For all my inquisitive questions and code-breaking on Insanity, I can safely say that the major bulk of their material, no matter what time frame it’s from, is fucking good if not a band that you should familiarize yourself with. For all you metal history buffs and nerds out there, if you need any more convincing on this band, then just re-read this entire post.